Momoyama Goto – Dragons

Menuki: Dragons

Signature/mei: mumei

School: Goto (mainline)

Material: gold

Era/jidai: early Edo

Dimensions left in mm: 32.2 x 14.6 x 5.3

Dimensions right in mm: 33.6 x 13.6 x 5.6

Custom made kiri box

NBTHK: Hozon (2009) – Mumei Goto (Momoyama)

Price: €4100/ $4500 / ¥650000

The term “Momoyama-Goto” covers the fourth to seventh generation of the main Goto line, also called the Shirobei line. So here we see menuki that may have been made by Goto Kojo (4th), Goto Tokujo (5th), Goto Eijo (6th) or Goto Kenjo (7th).
What makes this menuki with dragons so interesting and sets it apart from other dragon motifs is the very fine, accentuated carving of the two dragons, which is very detailed. If we just look closely at the number of scales (or casing), these two are much better and more detailed compared to other Kaga Goto or even mainline Goto designs.
These menuki are also slightly higher compared to other major works, which makes the dragon appear more alive. The two appear also very lively due to the deep carvings, perhaps not as austere as one would expect from a mainline Goto design. It’s really fun to watch as the dragon sticks out its tongue and holds the captured pearl in its claws. What is impressive is that these menuki, which were certainly mounted (recognizable by the slightly rubbed highest point), are in such great condition and all details such as spines, claws, tail and tongue are still preserved.
Further research is required for these menuki to further pinpoint the Goto master who made them. Since it is now the Year of the Dragon, it is time to release the dragon into the wild.


Kyo Kinko – Hyōtan Namazu

Menuki: Hyōtan Namazu

Signature/mei: mumei

School: Kyo Kinko

Material: shakduo, gold

Era/jidai: Edo

Dimensions: (left): 33.3mm x 12.0mm

Dimensions (right): 31.0mm x 14.2mm

Custom made kiri box

NBTHK: Hozon (2015) – “Hyōtan Namazu” – Kyo Kinko

Price: €1375 / $1500 / ¥220000

These menuki show the motif “Hyōtan Namazu“, a catfish, which is made here from shakudo. His eyes, as well as the pumpkin bottle, are inlaid in gold.

The Ōnamazu (大鯰 ‘giant catfish’) is a fictional, giant catfish (namazu) that was supposedly the cause of earthquakes in Japan.

There are various variations of the “Hyōtan Namazu” motif, which can literally be translated as “bottle gourd catfish”. Sometimes a person is shown climbing onto a catfish with that (pumpkin) bottle or “riding” on the catfish. Another time a monkey is depicted instead of a human.

All of these “Hyōtan Namazu” motifs allude to the question or the Zen riddle of whether you can catch a catfish with a bottle.

The motif is a metaphor for the fact that even seemingly impossible tasks can be achieved through personal effort.

This motif was probably created in Ōtsu on Lake Biwa during the Edo period, the so-called Ōtsu-e colored woodblock prints, on which this metaphor was often used.

Ōtsu on Lake Biwa was the last stop on the Tōkaidō and Nakasendō highways before reaching the capital Kyoto.

To come back to the menuki, they also come from a studio in Kyoto and therefore have a Hozon certificate to “Kyo Kinko” (soft metal from Kyoto).


Ko-Goto “Millet”

Menuki: Millet

Signature/mei: mumei

School: Ko-Goto

Material: shakduo, gold

Era/jidai: Momoyama

Dimensions: (left): 36.1mm x 12.7mm

Dimensions (right): 35.6mm x 13.1mm

Kiri box

NBTHK: Hozon (2021) – “Millet” – Ko Goto

Price: €950 / $1050 / ¥150000

The term “Ko-Goto” covers the first three generations of the Goto main line, also called the Shirobei line. So here we see menuki, which may have been made by Goto Yujo (1st generation), Goto Sojo (2nd generation) or Goto Joshin (3rd generation) who lived and worked in the Momoyama period.
The age of the menuki is also noticeable in the slightly rubbed gold plating, through which the base material, here shakudo, stands out. However, this is not a disadvantage; on the contrary, it contributes to the Japanese aesthetic. It also shows that these menuki were mounted on a tsuka and where they were used.
The design of “Millet” also points to a work by Goto.


Shonai “Wasps”

Menuki: Wasps

Signature/mei: mumei

School: Shonai

Material: copper, gold, shakukdo

Era/jidai: Edo period

Dimensions: (left): 17.9mm x 18.8mm x 3.6/6.44mm

Dimensions (right): 25.0mm x 15.6mm x 3.5/5.4mm

Kiri box

Price: €888 / $980 / ¥150000

These menuki with the design of wasps are made of copper. The wings are covered in gold, while the wasp’s stripes are carefully inlaid with shakudo. A typical work of the Shonai school of swords fitting artists.
Currently, there is no attribution by the NBTHK, but I guarantee at least for hozon.